GUIDE TO HANGEUL (THE KOREAN ALPHABET)
Hangeul, the Korean alphabet, was invented and promulgated by King Sejong during the 15th Century. The alphabet was originally called hunmin jeongeum, which signifies a system of correct sounds for the instruction of the people. Prior to Hangeul, Korean was written in characters borrowed from Chinese, which required more time and effort to learn than the average citizen could afford.
Nowadays, Korean is written almost entirely in Hangeul. The shapes of the consonants are based on the shapes the mouth made when the corresponding sounds are formed, and the traditional direction of writing (vertically from right to left) most likely came from Chinese, as did the practice of writing syllables in blocks. However, unlike Chinese, Hangeul is a phonetic alphabet. Its popularization is attributed largely to its simplicity—it can be mastered in a few hours. The modern name for the alphabet was coined by a Korean linguist called Ju Si-Gyeong in the early 1900’s, and denotes the letters of the Korean people.
Given its simplicity and popularity, anyone who plans to spend time in South Korea is strongly advised to learn Hangeul. A few hours of self study on the plan is all it takes. Although most signs in major cities are multilingual, a familiarity with Hangeul will make your life easier, and also provide a solid foundation on which to study the Korean language. Plus, you’ll suddenly recognize the hundreds of modern Korean words borrowed from English!
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